BRUNO DYCK AND BRUNO S. SILVESTRE. “A Novel NGO Approach to Facilitate the Adoption of Sustainable Innovations in Low-Income Countries: Lessons from Small-scale Farms in Nicaragua.” Organization Studies. First Published January 24, 2018.


The authors provide an analysis of the sustainable innovations in Nicaragua’s small-scale farms based on: technological feasibility, commercial viability, organizational appropriability, and societal acceptability. This paper renews the traditionally implemented centralist perspective for conservation farming and emphasizes innovation systems theory that involves two-directional learning in small-scale farms rather than rigid standardization that often overlooks local sociocultural issues. This case study of Nicaragua will contribute to a better understanding of how governments and NGOs in low-income countries should approach conservation innovation and drives home the message that when dealing with communities there isn’t a one size fits all solution.


Abstract: There are about 500 million small-scale farms in low-income countries on the planet. Farmers have been slow to adopt a threefold set of sustainable agronomic practices known as “conservation agriculture” (CA) that have been shown to double productivity. Our study of a novel CA project in Nicaragua, organized based on principles that counter convention, may point to improved ways of understanding and managing sustainable innovations in low-income countries. In particular, by connecting core ideas from the innovation literature to the literature that explores the role of intermediaries such as NGOs, our case study suggests that the efficacy of NGOs to facilitate the adoption of sustainable innovations by small-scale farmers in these settings may be enhanced if NGOs employ non-centrist approaches in order to address the critical uncertainties associated with such innovations. We discuss how our findings contradict some of long-standing arguments in the literature, and their implications for theory and practice.

Keywords: international development; local innovation systems; non-governmental organizations; organizational learning; small-scale farms; sustainability; sustainable agriculture; sustainable innovation adoption.